Music

I think music has gradually become more and more important to me over the course of my life. The longest-running and most important music for me is the bells.

Myself (in the stripy shirt) on the treble, and my mother (in the blue top and sparkly scarf) on the 5th, ringing with the IACR at Drumbo, County Down.

I was taught English change-ringing by my mother when I was a young boy, in Fawley, Hampshire. In the early 1990s I rang regularly with the Oxford University Society at Holywell, SMV, Mary Mag and New. After a break from ringing I returned to live in Oxford, and I rang at Iffley village, and with the Oxford Diocesan Guild. After I moved to Scotland I rang at St Andrews, Scotland, and did a lot of teaching there as well; I was elected vice-captain of the St Andrews band. Now I am living in Northern Ireland I have been ringing with the Irish Association of Change Ringers. I have been elected Northern District Ringing Master, and I am now ringing regularly with the band at Lurgan.

The other music I have concentrated on is the old Irish and Scottish harp music.

I got into this when I was at university, after discovering archaeology, and traditional music, and the harp. These things have guided me ever since. I went from the archaeology of music, on to organology and ethnomusicology; I was interested in experimental archaeology and reconstructionism, and I did some work with early-medieval lyres and other strange ancient things, but mostly at this point I was interested in trying to reconstruct medieval Gaelic harp music. In 2006-7 I commissioned a detailed “archaeological” reproduction of the 14th century Scottish Queen Mary clarsach preserved in the National Museum of Scotland, which I used to explore possible re-imaginings of medieval West Highland music, including an exploration of the pibroch or ceòl mór repertory of the bagpipes.

With Gaelic singer Gillebrìde MacMillan, performing for the chiefs of Clan Donald at Armadale, Isle of Skye.

However the more I worked on this reconstructionism, the more I realised the relevance and importance of living traditional music. I investigated things like pibroch, and Ossianic ballads. I was inspired by the Scandinavian bowed-lyre or Jouhikko traditions. I was involved with the traditional music scene at the Wighton Centre in Dundee.

Eventually in 2017-18 I stopped working on the medieval recreationism. Since then I have been concentrating on trying to understand the 18th and 19th century Irish harp traditions.